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Lake Itasca Camping Trip
In the summer of 2008, our big black van made its way through the dark in Lake Itasca State Park. All twelve of the inhabitants were very excited to be so close to our destination after having endured a four hour road trip. We had to backtrack a few times before our headlights came to a stop on our campsite. A few cheerful fires were dancing in the darkness casting a ring of light on the tired campers as they exchanged recent and old stories. Our camp was dark and bleak but we were ready to make this into a bustling campsite just like the others. My dad had to bellow, 'Remember, we need to get camp set up before you all run off and play.'
Soon our two tents were up and the children were off with the cousins. Mom and Dad, along with the four older children were carrying the cots, sleeping bags, and suitcases from the van to the tents. Once camp was set up, I joined my cousins beside their large fires. My whole body felt delightfully warm and I grew sleepy. After a while I told my younger brother, Michael that I was going to bed. In my sleeping bag, I listened to the campers' voices and thought of the wonderful time that I would have the next day. Sleep came quickly.
The sun came up over the horizon and the Lake Itasca waters shimmered with shades of yellow and red. The four tent campsites were silent, the inhabitants sleeping peacefully. In the tent on the end nearest the bathroom, I stirred and then stretched. Eager to start this exciting day, I immediately pulled on my clothes and put my shoes on. I moved silently so that I wouldn't wake Michael, who needs his sleep. Once out in the fresh morning air, I stood for a second and took in the peaceful scene that would be bustling campsites in a few hours.
My first instinct was to wake up my brothers and start playing. I thought better of it and instead began to look for a branch about the width of my thumb. It needed to be straight and have smooth bark. This is the perfect kind of branch for a whistle. My friend had showed me how to make a whistle out of a small branch about a week before. After searching in the trees for five minutes, I found just the right branch. I broke off a section about six inches long with the same width along the whole section. After sitting down on a picnic table near my campsite, I took out my pocket knife and carved a ring through the bark in the middle of the section. Then, I carved a mouthpiece on one end. Next, I cut at a forty-five degree angle away from the mouthpiece till I made it through the bark. Then, I cut straight down so that both cut met. I started tapping the bark with the handle of my knife. Five minutes later, I stopped tapping and slowly twisted and pulled the bark on one side until it slid off. After that, I carved a notch halfway into the wood one centimeter long. This was the chamber where the air would bounce around. Finally, I carved off the top portion of the wood from the chamber to the end with the mouthpiece. Done carving, I put away my knife and slid the bark back on. Now I blew and the camp was filled with a shrill whistle. Wow! I had never thought that I could actually make my own whistle out of wood.
About halfway through the process of making the whistle, my cousin, Sammy, sat down on the branch beside me. I told him to look for a small branch that was straight and smooth. Right after that, I slipped with my knife and cut myself. My finger throbbed but I was able to get over it. I helped Sammy with his whistle, but when he blew his, nothing happened. There must've been some trick to it that we weren't aware of.
After making whistles, Sammy, his older brother Alex, and I rode on their bikes. We biked around camp a few times and then biked to the lake (which was pretty close to our camp.) The lake was a classic northern Minnesota type of lake with the shore lined with trees almost as if they were fighting to get as close to the source of the mighty Mississippi as they could. I marveled at the idea that such a small lake could be the start of the Mississippi River is very wide by the time it flows through St. Paul. My stomach gave a loud rumble and I forced myself to turn away from the beauty of the lake. I spoke up,' Let's eat.' We raced back to camp and to my delight, breakfast was ready. It was pancakes and sausages that filled me up. Yum! Awhile later, our big black van was parked in the beach parking lot. I ran around on the soft, fine sand. Someone had made a sand castle about ten feet from the water. It was below a small cliff and the position of it made it a prime object to jump over. My brother, our friends, and I took turns flying through the air over the castle and sinking into the soft sand below. This was great fun; however we were bitten by small, black flies and fled into the water for protection. We swam and played water games till we were out of breath. We paused to look on as two large boats came by, one with my grandma and grandpa on it.
Right about then, a large pontoon came into view and the murmur of the motor grew louder. Our group of campers had rented a pontoon for a few hours. I was excited to ride on one of these boats that I had often seen before. It was basically a platform with the seats and the driving tools balanced on two metal cylinders. We were only allowed to go five miles per hour so we had a relaxing cruise for ten minutes. This was hard for me because I wanted to have fun, not relax! Then, we went swimming. I entertained myself with big cannonball dives and then doing flips in the water. It was easier with the lifejacket and I was able to spin faster. Once I was right side up again, I looked around. The boat had drifted away from the small group of swimmers. After the boat came back three times after drifting away, it was time for us to head back.
We ate a delicious lunch and then everyone's attention switched to volleyball. Volleyball is one of my favorite group activities. Everyone gets a shot at the ball and you don't need much skill to play. I thoroughly enjoyed the games and the thing the stopped my playing was the call, 'Time to go.' We went back to camp and grabbed our supper which we were going to eat at the picnic shelter. Soon, we were back to the same parking lot. Once we rejoined with our relatives, we heard that a large storm system was heading our way. Cooking food would have to wait so we all went into this informational building to wait it out. Before I went inside, I went into the trees and selected another branch for a wooden whistle. This would help to pass the time.
Throughout the storm, I worked on my whistle with the rain pattering on the metal roof. Several times, I looked at some of the exhibits and was amazed at how interesting they were. One of them explained that forest fires help the evergreen trees. The heat opens up their cones and lets the seeds out. While I was carving a whistle, I had a new set of observers. One of them was truly interested and didn't leave to go into the rain or talk with her friends. I worked carefully and soon enough the bark was slid back on and I was blowing the finished whistle. The high pitched sound was significantly louder than the first whistle's note. Once the whistle was finished, I showed everyone and blew for a while. Most of my pleasure came from building the whistle however, so I offered it to the girl that had diligently watched me make it.
Once the rain was finished soaking everything completely, the storm left and warm sunshine filled the air. We went back to the picnic shelter and ate one great dinner. Then, the older children tried to decide what to do. Some favored croquet and others volleyball. I was for volleyball because we have a croquet set at our house and it isn't so exciting. It was decided that volleyball was the best choice so we started out to the court. Halfway there, we were interrupted by the call, 'Come and sing happy birthday for Gina (a little three year old cousin)!' We tromped back to the picnic shelter and obediently sang the song. We only stopped to wolf down a piece of cake and then started back to the volleyball court. We played till the sun was about to go down and then packed up and went back to camp. After that, all I really did was sit around a campfire eating smores and taking turns riding bikes through the dark. I tried to help my uncle create a whistle of his own. Soon he was done and he blew. Nothing but a rush of air. Puzzled, I studied his whistle for a while. Suddenly, it came to me. He had put the air hole facing the wrong direction. Too bad. I was tired and ready to slumber. Soon, my even breathing was all that you could hear in our tent.
When I awoke, it was light out and the birds were singing. There were already people awake and by the time I was out of my tent, breakfast was ready. It was my mom's amazing homemade granola. After my bowl was in the garbage, I hopped on a bike and rode around. I stopped at my grandparents' cabin. The inside was very small and the kitchen was probably the size of a large closet. I greeted my grandparents and my grandma told me, 'This sure is a small cabin. I am amazed at how nice it is, so cozy and clean.' I agreed and we visited for awhile, well, it was pretty long for me! Later on, my cousins wanted to ride the bike so I got off. I tried to run alongside them, but that wore me out rather quickly. The boys were gone so I decided to go look at the lake. I wanted to see the beauty that I had witnessed before. For a while, I just sat on a tree that reached out over the water and looked across the waters onto the other shore, speechless.
Lake Itasca was truly amazing.
Later on, the boys decided to go fishing. I tagged along but didn't bother to fish. The water was very shallow and sandy around us. Fish don't swim in places like that! I basically sat and watched them fish, admiring their determination. We grew tired of fishing and went back to camp. The adults were packing everything up and preparing for our time at the headwaters of the Mississippi River. My grandma had always wanted to come here and this was the biggest part of our camping trip. My mom had already left walking with some others. Some aunts, uncles, cousins, and my brother prepared to bike there.
Our big black van rolled into the parking lot. We piled out and began walking to our destination. There was a gravel path with these markers that said 40 ft., 35 ft., 30 ft., and so on to the headwaters. I was amazed at the number of people that were walking on the path. Once we got to the spot I thought to myself, this is tiny! It had all of these signs that explained about the river itself and a large rock with the words, THE HEADWATERS OF THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER. The water was only about two feet deep at the most and about 10 yards wide. It resembled a creek. There was a line of rocks that separated the lake and the stream. Everyone was walking across them. It was kind of hard considering the fact that the rocks were very slippery. A few people slipped and got wet, but I made it across three times without getting anything but my legs wet. Lots of people were taking pictures and there was several groups of boy scouts at the place. Everyone there wanted to see and/or experience the headwaters of the Mississippi River, the longest river in the U.S. It truly was a great experience to be able to be there and I had a good time. All too soon, it was time to leave. On the way to the parking lot, I was stopped and asked if I wanted to bike back. I was happy to be given the option because biking is a lot more fun than riding in a van. On one of the boardwalks of the biking path, we saw a pink and white lady slipper and stopped to examine it. After taking a few pictures of our beautiful state flower, we continued on.
We packed up camp and took down the tents. After a lot of hard work, our van was ready to go. It seemed like just last night we had pulled in. We made our way out of Lake Itasca State Park and onto a main road. Our van carried us away from this short time of paradise and the memories that would be carried throughout my life. We traveled back to our warm and cozy beds; back to our lives of routine and the comforts of home.